At the 'Cliffe's Edge

Now under Harvard's watch, undergraduate women wonder whether they still fit into life on Garden Street.

Radcliffe’s purpose is a mystery for most undergraduates, more than three years after the merger of Radcliffe College and the University formally transferred responsibility for female undergraduates to Harvard College.

While the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has retained its Garden Street locale—only a few minutes’ walk from Harvard’s undergraduate center—its role in student life has diminished dramatically.

Seventy-three percent of undergraduates say they do not understand the purpose of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, according to a survey of 408 undergraduates conducted by The Crimson last year.

While the undergraduate majority might not know the purpose of Radcliffe, leaders of women’s groups on campus say they are interested and excited by the research and scholarship opportunities the Institute provides.

And Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust says this lack of understanding is simply part of a larger issue—explaining a new, unique addition to Harvard that is continuing to define itself.


The 1999 merger agreement mandated that Radcliffe cut formal ties to undergraduate groups.

This year, students expecting the traditional lavish fare at a Radcliffe-sponsored Senior Soiree were disappointed to find that the Radcliffe Association had stopped footing the bill. The event instead was funded by the Harvard Alumni Association, with Radcliffe administrators noting that it no longer shared responsibility for undergraduate alums-to-be.

And last year Radcliffe ended its financial backing of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP)—the last remaining undergraduate student group funded directly by Radcliffe. The Institute provided $5,000 annually for the WLP, but this year responsibility for the group has shifted to the College.

Former WLP Co-Chair M. Kate Richey ’03 says that with the many administrative tasks facing Faust when she arrived as dean last year, continued WLP funding was overlooked in the shuffle.

“They actually just realized that they were still funding us this year,” Richey said last year.

Radcliffe’s primary relationships with undergraduates now take the form of research partnerships, mentorship and externship programs.

Some undergraduate groups are still hoping to maintain contact with the Institute. Even these students, however, say they are unclear about what Radcliffe was—and what it is becoming.

At a University known for its history and traditions, they note, institutional memory among students is often short-term. The students who protested what they referred to as the “demise of Radcliffe College” in 1998 have since graduated. What was once an advocacy movement which appeared on the pages of national media publications is now merely a memory for the occasional campus feminist.

Those who knew Radcliffe in its last days as a College received their diplomas last June. The women of the Class of 2002 were the last to be admitted to Radcliffe College.

“People who are here now don’t know what’s been lost,” says Rani Yadav ’03, former co-chair of the WLP.